The social media is the fastest tool of communication in human history. It has changed the way people interact so much: tweeting, blogging, texting, live chatting, posting on Facebook and other social networks, sharing their views and opinions with the world. They share their minds instantly.
Social media gives you the opportunity to make new connections online. The world lies at your fingertips. You can reach out to a large number of users. Statistics show that the total number of Facebook users worldwide is 1.2 billion and that 98 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds use social media.1
What is social media?
Social media “provides a way for people to share ideas, content, thoughts, and relationships online. Social media differs from so called ‘mainstream media’ in that anyone can create, comment on, and add to social media content. It can take the form of text, audio, video, images, and communities.”2
It is “participatory online media where news, photos, videos, and podcasts are made public; typically accompanied with a voting process to signal items considered popular.”3
Here are some social media statistics:
- Three out of four people use social networks regularly.
- Social media has overtaken email as the number one activity on the Web.
- There are over 200 million blogs.
- Every day sees some 900,000 blog posts.
- Ninety-three percent of social media users believe companies should have a presence in social media.
The first years of the Internet revolution were all about getting computers connected to the World Wide Web. The following years have been all about getting people connected to one another.
Social media communication tools have profoundly changed our lives, especially how we interact with one another and the world around us. Here are the top areas in which it has affected our daily lives:
1. Source of information. Friends on social media are increasingly becoming people’s trusted sources of information, even more than search engines. Furthermore, by getting your news from social media, you know who is recommending it and can easily communicate with that person about it. News is more social than ever.
2. Launching a business. While business in the past was generally conducted with those in one’s immediate environment, social media—everything from blogging to tweeting, to posting videos on YouTube—has opened new possibilities for both customers and clients. Who we do business with and how we promote that business has moved increasingly online, and for small businesses especially, social media has proved invaluable.
3. Connecting with people. Social media helps find and maintain both old and potentially new friendships.
4. Place for authenticity. The goal used to be to make sure that we always appeared to be in complete control; but this is shifting, in part, because of social media. The paradigm is now no longer to try to appear perfect but to be more transparent with your thoughts and feelings, to reveal your humanness.
5. Power to influence. Even if we have few followers on Twitter or friends on Facebook or subscribers to our blog, the average person’s influence increases as communication channels become more open and fluid. As the networks for sharing and amplifying information strengthen, so does the ability of each person to influence public opinion and policies. As a result, we feel much less like passive bystanders and much more like participants who have a voice in the events of our world.
“The Internet has brought media to a global audience. The Web has opened a tremendous opportunity to reach a great number of participants directly with targeted messages.”4
Let me share some of the benefits of social networking:
1. Tolerance. Networks are good for handling diversity. Behind our screen we can be any color, any nationality, without the fear of not being accepted.
2. Friendship. Networks are about connections of nodes. I have a friend who knows a friend who could recommend you for his company. Usually it goes that way, for we get connected to each other very easily and there are no limitations or lack of trust.
3. Change. Networks are so versatile that everything can still operate effectively whether on a large scale or for smaller, close-knit groups.
4. Communal. Groups are created so that people join and feel welcome in a community.
5. Equal, small versus big. For example Amazon.com vs. Waterstones. The latter is probably the biggest and most well-known bookstore in the United Kingdom and Europe at large. At one stage, nobody thought anything could surpass its size and reputation; especially not Amazon.com, which started offline on a much smaller scale. Now Amazon has become a multinational sensation. With social networking, both types of businesses can be put on the same footing.
6. Fair. In previous years, the television producers and radio executives decided what featured in the media. However, there has now been a redistribution of power; not only does the average person sitting at home get to have a say in what they experience in the media, but they also have the chance to actually participate.
7. Open. Those who are ready for experimentation are able to do so freely. They can reach other users open to new things around the globe. This is how simple “home videos” end up having a few million viewers on sites such as YouTube.
8. Authentic. Everyone has his or her own identity; no two “profiles” or blogs are ever exactly the same. People can express their individuality through personal touches, without the restrictions of conformity.
9. Global. There are no borders or obstacles in connecting.
10. Participator. Using their own online ID, everyone can participate in any discussion.
11. Seekers. The new rule of the information age: if you don’t, someone else will.
Social networking is not all positive. There are challenges of which to be aware:
1. Internet addictions. The most common and dangerous addiction is pornography. Other dangers include Facebook, games, gambling, and many more addictions.
2. Less contact with family members. People on social networks feel that they socialize enough on the Internet and seem to reduce the time they spend socializing offline, particularly with family members. As a result, they become less interested in family life and tend to lose contact.
3. Feelings of loneliness and depression. Research shows that people who are spending more time on the Internet are more depressed and lonely. They lose sight of living in the real world.
4. Less active in social life. People who spend more time on the Internet lose the will to get out and actively socialize.
5. Exposure to sexually explicit material. Sexually explicit material can be found everywhere on the Internet. Even accessing a simple Web site for information, whether it be for work or general research, exposes you to endless sex advertising pop-ups.
6. Online victimization. Piracy is one example of online victimization. Hackers can also do a lot of harm to Internet users.
7. Fluidity of the virtual identity. People can present themselves in an entirely different way from what they are really like by using a false identity.
Steps to social media success
Here are four simple steps to social media success:
1. Find interested people. Peer recommendation is the strongest type of marketing today. So, if you find people who are interested, that means they will bring even more.
2. Deliver quality content. Content is king. Good quality content on sites and social media is essential. Content has to be fresh and delivered regularly.
3. Capture information. Paying attention to every single detail will help capture the information.
4. Stay in touch. Last but not least, stay in touch with the people who came or were brought to you. A community is created when a group of people gathers; staying in touch will help you find new challenges, ideas, and relationships with the world at large.
Social media and evangelism
Social media evangelism is the new frontline of evangelism, based on Christ’s method to mingle with people where they are, sympathize with them, meet their needs, and invite them to follow Jesus.5
Jesus’ method of spreading the gospel was through discipleship. We want to embody this method at all times in our Internet ministry. Digital missionaries should see the contacts they make as potential discipleship opportunities and the country Web pastor should certainly treat every visitor as a disciple in the making.
Discipleship on the Web looks just like discipleship on the ground. If we follow Christ’s method of reaching people, we can see that He spent time with people and wanted the best for them. He sympathized with what they were dealing with, and wherever possible, He met their needs. All of these factors gained the confidence of the people He was interacting with, and only after this happened would He then invite them to follow Him.6 Based on this method, here is a social media discipleship pathway:
• CONNECT (network) online: social networks, blogs, chat rooms, special interest sites.
• SHARE (post) relevant material that meets the needs of people and invite them to visit and explore wholistic life together through videos
• TALK (chat) with your online friends in order to understand their needs, and respond with the relevant messages of hope found in the Bible, and perhaps by sharing your personal story.
• MEET (offline) face-to-face to develop trust and confidence in Jesus.
• INVITE (follow) Jesus on the journey of spiritual development.
Your intention, every step of the way, should be to treat each visitor and contact as a potential disciple. You should take a personal interest in their lives. You cannot expect to disciple 500 to 1,000 people individually, but you can certainly take time to disciple a small group of people and build personal relationships.
These personal relationships will form the bonds necessary to create the community that brings people back time and time again to your social media evangelism network.
This network goes beyond mere digital relationships. Ultimately every disciple you create will become a real member, in a real church, somewhere in his or her local community. This is the goal of social media evangelism: digital connections with real disciples, leading to new membership in real churches.
Who can be a digital missionary (DM)? Anyone. The main requirement for any DM is their excitement about using the Internet as a way to reach
out to unchurched people in their language, in local communities, and around the world.
DMs are perhaps the most important players in this effort—without them, this project would be unable to move forward. The DM’s task will branch
out in several different directions.
The role of DMs includes communicating with the Web pastor (WP) to help them in delivering good content and promoting the site. They will be
active on the site, post materials, post comments, invite people, and interact with them. Facebook will be the predominant marketing tool. Through different groups and pages, they will talk with and invite people to visit and join their network.
Every WP will need to translate the site if there is no other particular language. His or her first task after transition will be to find good content, filling all subcategories. The next step is recruiting and training digital missionaries, finding people who are willing to help in delivering good quality content, and promoting the site. Then it comes to networking, which is inviting people to visit the site, welcoming them, and then interacting and talking with them. With the use of Facebook (FB), the WP will be able to promote the site and open a fan page where the WP will interact with their fans on a daily basis. The WP will need to follow strategies and provide a monthly report using Google Analytics for measurable results and also collect interesting stories and testimonies.
The WP will look after the DMs in their area, empowering them in the task they have before them. The WP will guide, advise, counsel, and
encourage their DMs with weekly communication and interaction.
The WP needs to serve as a resource for the DM in answering difficult questions and approaching difficult situations they may face along the way. Perhaps even more importantly, they will serve as a discipleship guide to disciple the DM’s contacts along the way.
The WP should be active on their DMs’ blogs and spaces to help establish relationships with the contacts the DMs are making in their area.
Now that you have heard about social media evangelism, the benefits it holds, and the challenges that may arise, I challenge you to develop an online community with the aim of creating a place where people can explore life together, share ideas and stories, discuss favorite topics, and be inspired for wholistic growth in their relationship with God.
Meerman Scott, David. 2011. The New Rules of Marketing and PR: How to use News Releases, Blogs, Podcasting, Viral Marketing, and Online Media to Reach Buyers Directly. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Meyerson, Mitch. 2010. Success Secret of the Social Media Marketing Superstars. Entrepreneur Media Inc.
White, Ellen G. 1905. Ministry of Healing. Pacific Press Pub. Assn.
Fitzgerlad, Britney. “Sarah Leary, Nextdoor Social Network Co-Founder, Talks Bill Gates, Startup Advice”, August 2012. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/10/sarah-leary-nextdoor_n_1699094. h t m l ? u t m _ h p _ r e f = s o c i a l-networking (accessed November
Social Networking Statistics, Statistic Brain. http://www.statisticbrain.com/social-networking-statistics (accessed November 12, 2012).
1 Social Networking Statistics, Statistic Brain. http://www.statisticbrain.com/social-networking-statistics/ (accessed November 12, 2012).
2 David Meerman Scott, The New Rules of Marketing and PR: How to use News Releases, Blogs, Podcasting, Viral Marketing, and Online Media to Reach Buyers Directly (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2011), 38.
3 Dave Evans, “What is Social Media,” Social Media Marketing: An Hour a Day. http://www.readthis.com/index.php/smmhad/part_i_chapter_03 (accessed November 8, 2012).
5 Ellen G. White, The Ministry of Healing (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1905), 143.
6 Ibid., 142.